Senior man

Are you above 60 and noticing blurry vision, especially in your central (rather than peripheral) vision? This could be macular degeneration, a common condition in seniors. It can progress to blindness without lifestyle changes or treatments.

Also called age-related macular degeneration, the condition is due to damage to the macula. The macula is a small part of the retina that is responsible for your central vision. It also plays an important role in capturing light and color.

Denise Gallagher, MD, an ophthalmologist at the UPMC Vision Institute who also sees patients at the UPMC Outpatient Center in Bethel Park, explains that there are two types of macular degeneration.

Dry macular degeneration is the most common type, accounting for 80% of people with the condition. It occurs when the macula become thinner with age. Dry macular degeneration progresses gradually and usually causes less severe vision loss than the other type.

Wet macular degeneration happens when abnormal blood vessels begin to grow in the eye. This damages the macula.

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What Are the Symptoms of Macular Degeneration?

Depending on whether you have dry or wet macular degeneration, symptoms may come up gradually or suddenly. You should see an eye doctor as soon as possible if you experience vision loss or blurriness. Early treatment may be necessary to preserve your vision.

Symptoms of macular degeneration include:

  • Blurriness in the center of your vision.
  • Straight lines appearing as wavy lines, especially in the central part of your vision.
  • Difficulty seeing in low lighting.
  • Difficulty recognizing faces.
  • Seeing colors less vibrantly than before.

Is There a Cure for Macular Degeneration?

There is no cure for macular degeneration, but treatments can prevent the condition from getting worse. In rare cases, treatments can even partially restore vision.

In addition to treatment, your doctor can help you adapt to the vision loss with vision aids. For example, an electronic magnifying device can help with reading or other activities requiring close-up sight.

Your eye doctor can also refer you to a vision rehab provider. This specialist can help you learn to see better with your existing vision and devices.

Treating dry macular degeneration

Recent research shows a mix of vitamins and minerals can prevent this condition from getting worse. Your doctor will suggest a supplement including Vitamin C, Vitamin E, lutein, zeaxanthin, zinc, and copper.

Healthier lifestyle habits can also stop or slow the progression of dry macular degeneration. (Learn more under Macular Degeneration Prevention below.)

Treating wet macular degeneration

Early treatment of this type of the condition is vital to preserve vision. The most common treatment is the injection of drugs into the eye every one to two months.

Your doctor will inject anti-VEGF drugs into the eye to prevent new blood vessels from forming and stop the condition from worsening. (VEGF, short for vascular endothelial growth factor, is a protein that promotes the growth of new blood vessels.) In some cases, the treatment can restore some vision to patients.

Doctors also recommend the same vitamin and mineral supplement used in the dry form of this disease. Your doctor may also recommend laser therapy to close leaking blood vessels.

Promising new treatments for macular degeneration

New treatments are on the horizon for both wet and dry macular degeneration. These include gene therapies and for wet macular degeneration, longer-acting drugs. Your doctor may be able to offer a new therapy as part of a study.

Macular Degeneration Prevention

Macular degeneration is more common in Caucasian people and more likely in those who have a close relative with the condition. In addition to genetics, lifestyle is also key to macular degeneration prevention. To reduce your risk of this condition, you can:

  • Exercise at least three times a week.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Wearing sunglasses to reduce damaging UV radiation.

With special cameras, doctors can detect signs of early dry macular degeneration even before patients show symptoms. This helps you take steps to improve your eye health.

If you are over 65, the American Association of Ophthalmology recommends seeing your eye doctor every one to two years. Between ages 40 to 65, you should follow your eye doctor’s recommendation for visits, based on your eye health and risk factors.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Vision Institute

The UPMC Vision Institute is a national leader in the treatment of eye diseases and disorders. We seek to improve and restore your vision to help your quality of life, diagnosing and treating a wide range of conditions in both children and adults. Our treatments include both surgical and nonsurgical options. We also offer routine eye screenings and have full-scale optical shops. Find an eye expert close to you.